Ramblings: Of utopia and dystopia and other random thoughts

In addition to reading a lot of poetry lately, I've also been craving a lot of end-of-the-world, beginning of the next world, paradise is not quite paradise, dystopian-style stories. Utopian thoughts are all cool and everything, but I have a lot of trouble imagining the perfect society where everyone and everything follows some kind of unwritten rules of perfection. Can we really believe that one day every single human who is on this planet will decide to treat everyone else as equals, never hurt anyone else, and never lie, cheat or try to better themselves by oppressing others? No. This is why this is called Utopia. Perfection doesn't exist. We are all flawed and will continue to be flawed. I can live my life treating everyone in the way I would want to be treated myself, but that doesn't mean that everyone else is going to decide to do the same. All of a sudden just because the world as we know it is going to end.
There has been talk of the end of the world coming soon for years now. We missed it in 1999. Last year the Rapture was supposed to happen. It may have, but it went by unnoticed because I suppose that most of us were not worthy of being raptured. Now the end of the world is supposed to be happening again this year. People are really preparing for it (I kid you not, I know someone who is collecting tins of food and making evacuation and survival plans for him and his family). All I could imagine when he was telling me this were scenes from Zombieland. He also told me that I was pretty much fucked because I lived on an island with 8 million other people and it would be pure chaos when it all started. I don't know what "IT all" is in his mind but I'm not getting too overly worried about it right now. All I have been thinking about in terms of survival mode is that I should probably start stocking up on bottles of Jameson and packets of Marlboro Lights, because I am sure they will be worth tons of money once people can't get them easily anymore. That's it, I shall continue to sell liquor to people to make a living in the midst of a world of destruction and despair. Smart, no?

So, this book I am currently reading, America Pacifica by Anna North, is based on the idea that the world was going through the second Ice Age, and that a small group of people (small being proportionate to the size of the world population at the time) were able to escape the ice and the perpetual freezing temperatures by fleeing to an island in the Pacific, and making a new home there. What should have been a new life for this group of people becomes a mini-replica of the US, governed by a dictator. There are those who live as rich and healthy in the nice areas of the island, called Manhattanville, while others struggle to survive in the slums of Little Los Angeles. Proper food is scarce for those who cannot afford it, and they live off fake cheese and jelly fish products. The main character, Darcy, was born on the island, and knows nothing of life beforehand. For her, this is life. But through-out the development of the plot she starts to discover what life was really like before the ice destroyed everything, and she begins to question the set-up of the society that she has always taken for granted. I haven't finished the book yet, so I don't know if it ends in a lighter note than it started in. We will see.

This society could be anywhere really - it's not too far-fetched if you think about it. There will always be those who just live, accepting that this is life, others who will question, and those who will actually stand up and try to make a change. There will always be those who are more well off, and those who have to fight every day to just survive. I just find it really interesting to read fiction that is so near to reality that it could be real. One day in the near future this may be us, stuck on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, wondering if all those people we used to know made it off the mainland, or managed to survive despite all odds. I really want to write an end of the worldesque story right now, but I don't actually know where to start. Maybe with the stockpiling of Jameson and Marlboro Lights...

On a more lighter (and happier note), I finished a compilation of poems written between the early 2000's and last week. If you want to read them you will have to ask me and I will email them. I can't post them on here, they are just too personal and raw. And I lack the confidence to do that. I also got offered a new job, working right next door to my other job. It's pretty much perfect and I'm really really happy about it. More about all that when I have actually started working there. I also bumped into an old friend who I hadn't spoken to in months, sorted out our differences and realised how much I had missed her. This has been a pretty wonderful summer so far, even if the end of the world is (apparently) nigh.

Literature/Poetry: Megan Falley

Poetry and I have a love/hate relationship. There will be days that I will only read poetry, and then I won't read any for months on end. Sometimes even years. I have written my own poetry from the darkest days of my early teenage years, and then of and on in splurts. All of these poems are hidden within journals and books, and sometimes I come across one that I had forgotten I had written, standing out on a page, in my scrawling handwriting. I stare at it with surprise, and then with recognition. Ah yes. You. I remember you.

I've been inspired lately. Not only to compile some of my own poems (more about that another time), but to write poetry again, and especially, to read it. Around the time that all this started again I picked up Megan Falley's After the Witch Hunt at the book store I work at, after one of my colleagues had recommended it to me. I started reading it on the train home, and nearly missed my connection stop. You know that feeling of being punched in the stomach and completely elated at the same time? The feeling of all of your senses buzzing against and with each other, vertigo and stability at once? Yes, that. You can open the book on any page and will probably need to hold your breath while you live through the poem. Live, laugh, cry and breathe against until you start on the next one. Each poem inserts itself into your brain and your heart, melds with your own experiences and life and tells you how it is. Out loud, raw, beautiful, personal but universal all at once. A voice that could be anyone's, but has the talent to create lines of words that are so intensely woven together that it is difficult to pull yourself away and forget what you have just read. I know I sometimes overuse the hyperbole, but, honestly, I am not exaggerating here. Megan Falley is just brilliant. And so inspiring.

I want to post lines from all of the poems in here, but for that you can just head over to Megan's website and/or buy her book. I'll just post some lines from Rain, the ones that I felt touched me the most today.

Give me that stupid, reliable cloud
because it might be the only thing
that never leaves

Because being only happy
is like having just one crayon - 
even if it's the prettiest crayon,
it sure gets boring.

Give me that cloud.
Give me this ache that lets me know
I'm alive.

Megan Falley's website
After the Witch Hunt

Ramblings: The Metaphor

 One year at university my Linguistics progamme demanded that we study all different types of figures of speech and be able to pinpoint them in any type of text. The exam consisted of a list of quotes and we were asked to name and explain the figure of speech. So, of course, I learnt all of the definitions by heart 24 hours before the exam, got about 99% right and then proceeded to forget a lot of them after the fact. This exercise only really matters to those who are actually going to continue either teaching Linguistics or literary analysis, or, maybe, to those who are going to write excellent forms of literary compositions.  I've written a lot of poetry over the years, more than anything else really, but I doubt that I will let anyone read many of my poems, mainly because of the fact that I studied so many brilliant poems through-out the years and never thought that mine would come anywhere near the brilliance of them. I still don't think they will. I wrote my last poem in 2010, sitting by the bay on Long Island, and I doubt that I will ever write one again (although I should probably never say never). The last ones sound more like song lyrics than poems anyway (but then again, they are so very close in nature, lyrics and poetry). I always blamed my writing of poetry on my laziness to write stories, and I always blamed my giving up on poetry on the existence of figures of speech, mainly the metaphor. Why? I'm still trying to figure this out myself.

The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms defines the metaphor as "a figure of speech (more specifically a trope) that associates two unlike things; the representation of one thing by another. The image (or activity or concept) used to represent or "figure" something else is known as the vehicle of the metaphor; the thing that represented is called the tenor. For instance, in the sentence "That child is a mouse," the child is the tenor, whereas the the mouse is the vehicle. The image of a mouse is being used to represent the child, perhaps to emphasize his or her timidity.
Metaphor should be distinguished from simile, another figure of speech with which it is sometimes confused. Similes compare two unlike things by using a connective word such as "like" or "as". Metaphors use no connective word to make their comparison. Furthermore, critics ranging from Aristotle to I. A. Richards have argued that metaphors equate the vehicle with the tenor instead of simply comparing the two."

That doesn't sound too difficult does it? The definition basically gives you the right to compare one thing to another, by the use of an image, so therefore not directly implying that one thing is like another. Take the following words for example: "camera" and "dinosaur". In the phrase "The camera is an old as a dinosaur" you can deduce that the camera in question is very old. In the phrase "The camera is a dinosaur" not only do you deduce that the camera is very old, but it also implies that the camera is very rare and most possibly unique. (Well it does for me, because I just randomly came up with the phrase by looking at a photo of one of Don McCullin's Nikon camera's I have on my wall). That is the whole point and the beauty of the metaphor - it allows the reader to imagine the object or the scene, rather than telling them exactly what it is. In my opinion that makes it one of the most important figures of speech in the world of literature (and by this I really mean the world of anything that is written, from pulp fiction to song lyrics via classical literature). The metaphor gives you the freedom to imply something is like something you would never really compare it to, while creating a conduit for your imagination to run through. Pretty cool, no?

That's what I thought too. There are no real limits to a metaphor, because technically you can correlate one thing with something that it has nothing in common with, and get away with it. Similes can get pretty boring, because the overuse of the word "like" can become heavy and unimaginative, in the same way as the overuse of the words "nice" and "good" can be associated with laziness. The English language is so amazingly rich in vocabulary and figures of speech that it is a pity not to make use of it on a daily basis. I don't want you to tell me that the colour of my sister's skin is the same as the colour of a lily - I want to imagine that it is. The best part of reading a book or a poem is that you can create your own image of the world that is drawn out for you by the writer. In Keats' La Belle Dame Sans Merci, the line "and on thy cheeks a fading rose" leaves you to imagine the colour of the rose and how this coincides with the colour of the person's cheeks. In Edgar Allan Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart the line "I undid it just so much that a single thin ray fell upon the vulture eye." implies that the person the narrator is peering at has an eye that resembles a vulture's. A vulture circles it's prey and lays in wait for it to die at the hands of another before it feasts. Got the chills yet? Exactly the atmosphere that Poe was aiming to instill in your mind.
All of Shakespeare's plays are chock-full of metaphors and images, you pretty much can find at least one in every scene. For example, in Othello (my most very favourite of all Shakespeare's plays) Iago says to Roderigo “Our bodies are gardens, to the which our wills are gardeners”, implying that we have free will and decide our own actions, and are not determined by a higher being in our destiny. Outside of the fact that Iago is evil personified, this was a pretty bold statement for the time, and I pretty much agree with it. Although I assume that he just used this to justify his own evil actions in his own eyes and in the eyes of others.

There are many times that I ponder upon the idea that an intensive study of literature is not always the best course of action for a writer. You learn how to dissect a piece of writing and find meanings that may or may not have been put there on purpose. You learn how to find recurring themes, and hidden meanings, and thoughts that may not convey themselves to you on the first reading. You learn about structure and metre and cadence; about different rules in poetry through-out the ages, but you don't learn how to actually write your own creative pieces (although you do learn to write excellent literary studies and criticism). Maybe this is only my own problem, but after writing freely for years I suddenly found myself searching through my poems for hidden meanings. I would look at lines and decide that just because they didn't contain a figure or speech found in one of Byron's poems they should be thrown in the garbage. Or I would sit at my desk for hours, surround myself with candles and scratch out an image that would just sound contrived or, even worse, way too similar to something one of my favourite authors or poets had written. Instead of just writing what I felt, the words that were running through my brain, I would push them away and try to come up with something that never actually sounded genuine. So I gave up for a while. I stopped analysing literature like that (and started analysing human beings and real life situations to compensate), and eventually stopped writing poetry. Actually, I stopped calling what I was writing poetry, and started to pretend to myself that the poems I was writing were all actually song lyrics that would never be put to music. All because I was terrified of never getting a metaphor right. I thought I was fearless, but I suppose that's just a cover. In reality I feared the image created by words. Or more accurately, the inability to create an image with words.

But in retrospect, that is just so silly... We create metaphors every day, in everything we do. My writing is full of metaphors, I made them up without thinking and/or realising. Metaphors come naturally. They just exist. Sometimes I still wonder if Shakespeare and Keats and Byron sat there for hours and hours stumbling over one line, or if they just wrote and wrote as they saw the images in their heads. I do the latter, and will continue to do so because that's the only way it works for me. I know that Plath would work on a line for days and days until it sounded perfect to her, but I don't have the patience for that. Maybe I should, who knows, but I'd rather actually be able to produce something rather than throw whatever few words I managed to eke out into the garbage.

Saying that... I just read two lines of a poem that I wrote in 2005. I think I will be going back to writing poetry again in the near future. Thank you metaphor for being so complicated but so simple at the same time. A Rubik's cube of words.

"Twinkle, twinkle silver shadow
My bottle sparkled with a grin"

Art & Poetry: Gabriel Dante Rossetti

I just spent an hour looking through 5 bookcases and hundreds of books looking for for my old collection of Rossetti's poems, a copy that I had taken from my parents collection of old and rare books years ago, but to no avail. It must be somewhere, but I absolutely hate when this happens! I was looking for one poem that referred to the moon, but I couldn't remember the exact title... In any case it must be around somewhere, and I will find it when I decide to take all of the books out, dust them and fit them back in the bookcases again, like a jigsaw puzzle. It got me thinking about how Rossetti has always been my favourite artist, because even though I love his poetry, I love his paintings even more. One of the main founders of the Pre-Raphaelite movement in the 19th century, many of his paintings depict beautiful portraits of women, with medieval and Italian Renaissance influences. The attention to detail n all his work is tremendous, and if you look closely at the faces of the women you can see that they all resemble each other, even if the hair colour or dress is different. I suppose this is because his artwork was intrinsically close to his real life relationships with his models and muses and he tended to reproduce their faces in his different paintings.

I used to have a whole collection of postcard reproductions of his work all over my bedroom walls years ago (amidst the Nirvana, Cure and Bauhaus posters), but I've lost most of them during my many moves. During my brief stay in London 7 years ago I got to see a good collection of his work at the Tate Britain (for free - only the temporary exhibitions have a fee to view) which was great. In an alternate universe where I was a millionaire and collected art, Rossettis would be what I would want to cover my house in. Or at least, own one of. Beauty, sadness, depth and other-worldy...
When I write I don't see words in my minds, but images, and I try to convey those images in words. When I take photographs I always think of words, strings of sentences, that go with the photo and convey the feelings and emotions that go through me when I capture exactly the image that I see in my mind. I think that's what I love the most about Rossetti - each piece of artwork is closely intertwined with a poem or a piece of writing. It's as if one cannot go without the other, which in my mind is an utterly true statement.

I've been feeling very whimsical all week... Maybe it's the weather...

Here is the poem I was looking for earlier:

A Match With The Moon
WEARY already, weary miles to-night
I walked for bed: and so, to get some ease,
I dogged the flying moon with similes.
And like a wisp she doubled on my sight
In ponds; and caught in tree-tops like a kite;
And in a globe of film all liquorish
Swam full-faced like a silly silver fish;—
Last like a bubble shot the welkin's height
Where my road turned, and got behind me, and sent
My wizened shadow craning round at me,

And jeered, “So, step the measure,—one two three!”
And if I faced on her, looked innocent.
But just at parting, halfway down a dell,
She kissed me for good-night. So you'll not tell.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Tate Britain: Website Here
Online Rossetti Archive: HERE

Literature: William Shakespeare, Sonnet XXIII

Just because Shakespeare wasn't only a playwright, and because I find this one particularly moving and truthful.

Sonnet XXIII
As an unperfect actor on the stage,
Who with his fear is put beside his part,
Or some fierce thing replete with too much rage,
Whose strength's abundance weakens his own heart;
So I, for fear of trust, forget to say
The perfect ceremony of love's rite,
And in mine own love's strength seem to decay,
O'ercharged with burthen of mine own love's might.
O! let my looks be then the eloquence
And dumb presagers of my speaking breast,
Who plead for love, and look for recompense,
More than that tongue that more hath more express'd.
O! learn to read what silent love hath writ:
To hear with eyes belongs to love's fine wit.

Go HERE to find all of the sonnets, as well as some explanations and commentaries (although I always find it easier to trust my own interpretation to be honest).

Poetry: Lord Byron - She Walks In Beauty

She Walks In Beauty - Lord Byron

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that 's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellow'd to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o'er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all
A heart whose love is innocent!

This is still one of my favourite poems ever written. Unlike most of Byron's work it is actually short and quite simple in tone and wording, but I think this was the exact effect that was intended. It's said that Byron wrote this after meeting his cousin's wife, and being inspired by her beauty wrote this poem. Other sources say that it was written about Augusta, his half sister (like many of his poems), and yet other sources say it alludes to the beauty of Art in general. After spending so many years studying 19th and 20th century literature and pulling apart poems until you could find any meaning to them that would make sense if backed up with the right arguments, I just like to read poetry and let the words give me the meaning they want to give me.

This poem was published as part of the volume of poems called Hebrew Melodies in 1815, and each poem was set to music. When read out loud you can almost hear the melody that goes with it (or maybe that's just me). In any case, whenever I feel agitated or upset I read this poem and immediately feel calmer. Serene beauty, inspiration, music and the calm sound of the ocean (the ocean is not mentioned but serenity and the ocean go hand in hand for me, and if you want to know why you should just ask me).

Here's a lovely recording of Eric Portman reading She Walks In Beauty:

I still have a teenage crush on Byron... What girl doesn't?!

Ted Hughes & renewed inspiration

"But for me successful writing has usually been a case of having found good conditions for real, effortless concentration." – Ted Hughes

I read this Ted Hughes quote on Twitter this morning and it immediately inspired me to actually write something today. I haven't been inspired this past week, too many ideas, too many thoughts, too many personal things that make me want to throw and kick things. Coupled with the dreaded grey haze that sometimes creeps up at all the wrong moments. I think I chopped through it, or at least watered it down for a while, so I am just typing while I still have all of these interesting beginnings of thoughts going around my head, before I give up again for the day.
I love Ted Hughes. I actually grew to love Ted Hughes while I was writing my thesis on Sylvia Plath. While reading, dissecting and literally nearly living her journals and letters and poetry for nearly a year, and digging myself into an abyss of self-loathing and depression, reading Ted Hughes helped me climb out and reach upwards again. While Plath will now always symbolise to me how dangerous a dark mind and pure talent can be, Hughes will always be the rationaliser, the one who turns the table around to prove that poetry can also be uplifting and empowering.
Basically, that you don't have to be dark and depressive to be an amazing poet (although it can often help). Words need to be strung together to create meaning, but it takes talent to actually create strings and strings of words which open doors and close them at the same time, depending on how you interpret the flow. But I think the main lesson I learnt from both Plath and Hughes is that you can have amazing talent, but if you don't use it then there is no point in having it at all. Everything takes hard work, nothing just happens. I suppose that lesson goes for us all.

So it seems that yet again, Ted Hughes has provided the soft push in the back that I needed to move along. I needed it, just a little jab, to tell me that I can actually complete what I have been wanting to complete for the past 20 years. I feel that by finally deciding to write this novel that I have wanted to write for years I am finally actually going to complete something that I will be really proud of. It's going to be both catharsis and outpouring, and I don't know how I will come out of it on the other side, but I think that's just a game of wait and see.

I don't know if the novel will be finished by the end of the month, but it will definitely be done by the end of the year (first draft). Positive reinforcement and energy would be wonderful, thanks <3.

From September, by Ted Hughes:
"It is midsummer: the leaves hang big and still:
Behind the eye a star,
Under the silk of the wrist a sea, tell
Time is nowhere."

Ted Hughes on thinking: